John Swanson and Family
by Howard Swanson.
John Swanson came to Canada, from Sweden, in the year of 1909. He first worked at the mill in Rainy River, Manitoba. In 1910, he came to Big River, Saskatchewan to help build the Big River Mill. Ingrid, his wife, arrived a year later from Sweden with their three children: Gus, Sevea, and Tessa. Six more children - Martha, Howard, Carl, Alfred, Eric, and Elsie - were born at Big River during the following years.
John was employed at the Big River Mill, as an edgerman during the summer seasons. in the winter he logged. He worked at these jobs till 1920. He fished Liston Lake for two winters. Since there were only toboggan trails at that time, a trail, wide enough for a team of horses and a sled, had to be cut. John, and Gus Swanson, Chris Erickson and Leonard Waite were the first men to fish Liston Lake. These men then set a camp up at Dog Lake; later they changed the name of Dog Lake to the Clarke Lakes. With only a team of horses at that time, it was a big job trekking through the deep snow. They fished Liston Lake until 1923.
In 1924, he made a fish camp at Whelan's Point, on Dore Lake. In later years he had as many as two hundred and ten nets to fish on Dore Lake. Some of the men that had worked for John Swanson were: his sons, Gus, Howard, Carl, Alfred, and Eric, Julius Johnson, Dave Briggs, Frank and Victor Pruden, Sam and Oly Neilson, MR. Davidson, Don and Clair Harriette, John Markly, Jim Cowie, Emanuel Wynn, Miles Isbister, and Philip Clement.
These were all hardy men. The cold did not seem to bother them. They were always eager to go back year after year. I can remember one day out fishing on the Lake when it was forty below with a little wind. Frank Pruden and I were lifting nets. It was so cold the fish froze in the nets, so we had to quit lifting that day. It was also too cold for the ice pony. There were times when it was storming so bad, we could not see the way back to the camp. So we let the ponies take us back. They seemed to know the way to the camp better than we did.
We had many experiences while fishing on Dore Lake. We had to use the snowdrifts for our bath-room. Sometimes it was so cold! But we could remedy this by running between the basin hole and the anchor hole. By doing this running we could brave the cold.
I remember going with the freight teams to La Plonge Lake to pick up Tony Erickson's fish from his camp. It was late in the season and he had two Cree men fishing for him at the camp on the opposite side of the Lake. We'd gone there to pick up the last of the fish and their nets were still in the Lake. This upset Tony, and to our surprise, he gave them a real talking to in Cree. Later, we learned that Tony could speak seven languages.
Another time, we had some nets at Harry Sharpe's camp on the north shore of Dore Lake. This was the second day of December before fishing had got underway. There was a large part of the lake still open. We travelled from the south side of Big Island and went due west to get to the north shore. There were only four to six inches of ice on the Lake. We went with a light team of ice ponies. That same night, there was a strong wind storm. Next morning the Lake had blown wide open. There was ice piled up to the treetops. This gave us a scare, because of being on the Lake the day before. It was a week before the Lake froze over again. We fished the nets on shallow water, where the ice was thick. Then when the ice was safer, we went fishing four to five miles from camp in deeper water.
Back home at camp, we would have to wash our fish mitts; three dozen or more. Julius Johnson would take out his mouth organ and play some good old-time tunes and we would keep time by scrubbing the mitts on the washboard. Sometimes he would play fast and other times slow. This made the job more pleasant and faster.
During the summer months, John and Gus would break land for farmers around Big River. John also had a farm two and a half miles north of Big River.
In 1944, John sold his fishing outfits. It did not pay to keep them when a smaller quota was established on the Lake. In later years John retired and moved to British Columbia and his son Howard took over the farm.
Thinking back, all retired fishermen dream that they are on the Lake lifting nets and camping. When they wake up in the morning, they are not even tired. John Swanson passed away in Quesnel, British Columbia, on October 1966, at the age of eighty-five. His wife Ingrid, passed away in June 1969, at the age of eighty-four. They are both buried in Quesnel, British Columbia.
John and Ingrid Swanson, 1954.
Gus Swanson and his wife Viola at their fish camp.
I first went up to Dore Lake in the fall of the year 1924. Max (Erickson) built a skiff in Big River, then a barge towed us up to the north end of Stoney Lake. Jim Pace had the stopping place there then. Next day, he took us over the portage with his team and wagon. I had to walk the eighteen miles, as it was too rough to ride on the wagon.
We arrived that night at Johnny Merasty's stopping place on the south end of Sled Lake. There we spent the night. Next day they towed us up Sled Lake to the Sled River. We then carried on from there, paddling all the way. There were rapids to go over, so I had to walk three miles in the bush, as the skiff had to be empty, to get it over the rocks. We camped out that night.
Next day we rowed to Camp Four Island. Fred and Alma Blanchette ran the stopping place there. We had to stay there for four days, as Max was sick from being in the icy waters of the rapids.
Well, we finally got to Michel Point where Max had his fish camp. That was quite a shock for a "green" girl like me to get into a wee tin stove to do all the baking on, heat water for all the washing, including dozens of fishy mitts to wash every night. We had a one-room shack, where we all slept with the aroma of fish mitts drying.
Our first winter there was very hard for me. The men slept in the corner on a pile of hay. I had to be up very early to get their breakfast and make lunches. They never got home till after dark. There was not very much to work with; a washtub and board to do all the washing, and I carried all the water from the Lake. The men had floated to oil and nets to mend. When the fish season closed we went back to Foam Lake.
Now, it was 1925, and we worked for Mr Thorne on his farm. He lived in town, as he had a large store. He was on his way home after checking on us to see how things were going, when he crossed the railroad track and was struck by the train. He was deaf, so I guess he did not hear it. He only lived for a day or two after that.
It was now the fall of 1925, and Phyllis was born on the 24th of September. Max had to go back to Dore to fish. I stayed at the Helgerson's till I was able to travel. Then I went to Big River. I had to stay in Tisdale overnight, then catch the train early morning for Big River. Quite a trip with a new baby in my arms, suitcase and a dog, little wee "Jippy". I had no money. I walked to the house where the conductor said I might be able to spend the night. In Tisdale, the old lady was very nice and kind.
When I arrived in Big River, Mrs John Waite met me. I stayed with the Waite's till Stoney Lake was frozen enough to travel on. Then I got a ride to Dore with the fish inspector.
After the fishing was over that winter in 1926, we stayed on in Dore. Some of the fishermen on the Lake left their dogs with us to look after for the summer. That same summer the Zeigler's bull took after me and I broke my collar bone. We had no way then to get any place. I was nursing Phyllis too, which made it more complicated. I lived and finally got better.
In the winter of 1927, we fished again. Max was not well, so fishing was not so good. In the spring Max went to Prince Albert Hospital and was there all summer. In September he passed away. Phyllis was just coming two years old then. My sister came to stay with me and I had two men to do the fishing for me. In the spring we went to Big River and we both got work.
The continuation of Ida Erickson's life at Dore Lake
by her son Ted Johnson.
After Max Erickson passed away Ida supported herself and Phyllis in Big River. She took in washing and made heavy parkas to sell to the men as they passed through in the fall, on their way to the logging and fishing camps. Later she married Verner Johnson and returned to Michel Point at Dore Lake.
I was born on November 19, 1933. Mrs Frederickson was the mid-wife. Doctors were three days away by the team in the winter and longer in the summer months by canoe. Over the years Ida patched up many cuts and even set broken bones for the residents.
Food staples and extra clothes came in during the winter by the team and later by cat swing. These had to last until freeze up, the next fall, so lists were checked carefully.
The garden supplied all the vegetables, which were canned or stored in a root cellar. Wild game and wild birds provided most of the meat, but we did raise cattle, pigs, chickens and geese. These were butchered and sold to the freighters. The leftover meat was canned or salt brined in the spring because there were no freezers then.
I recall one incident with the root cellar when I was small. The cow got in the door and ate her fill of vegetables, then couldn't reverse her way out, as her stomach was by then bigger than the door. I guess the cow waited till her stomach shrunk and backed out. All I clearly remember is seeing the back of that cow in the doorway and the men trying in vain to remove the rest of her from inside.
Wild fruit was picked in fish boxes and canned in every available jar, including wine jugs. Ida had one luxury few people had in those days - a fruit orchard. There were two or three kinds of crabapples, plums, and some fairly large apples that were quite edible raw. We also had tame raspberries and strawberries.
As the fishing outfit grew, a hired girl was kept year-round to help with canning in the summer and feeding extra men during the winter. For years until his death from a heart attack at Michel, Ted Figeland (who I was named after) was the bull cook. He cared for the animals and did the heavy house chores, such as getting water and wood. Chris Stepper replaced him and was with us for several years.
Ida continued to make parkas and feather robes from duck and goose down, plus knitted countless pairs of mitts for the fishermen.
I received my schooling in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Ida left Dore for Calgary, Alberta, where her daughter Phyllis resided. I left home when I was sixteen and spent a year and a half at Joseph's Point with my brother Carl. I then bought Olaf Neilson's mink ranch at Murry's Point. Ida returned briefly to keep house for me. However, her stay, unfortunately, was not a happy one, as she fell and broke her leg. Ida liked Calgary and her job running a little coffee shop, so she was happy to return there when I married.
I married Carol Conlan of Dorintosh, Saskatchewan, on February 14, 1955. Carol was born at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, on December 25, 1934. When she was about five years old her folks moved north to Dorintosh to escape the drought and grasshoppers.
While in Calgary, Ida married John Young. They retired to Summerland, British Columbia, where they have a couple of fruit trees and beautiful climbing roses to care for in the summer.
Ida is now eighty years old, but still gets out her violin and gives us a tune for old times sake when we go to visit. She recalls two incidents vividly from over the years. One was nearly tragic, the other one could have been, but instead provides us with laughs at family gatherings.
In the first instance, Ida was getting the cows, when the bull suddenly attacked her and knocked her down. She broke her collar bone, but she was able to roll under the fence and escape further injury and possibly death.
In the other instance, Ida and Phyllis were picking berries, when a bear suddenly turned up to claim his berry patch. Ida and Phyllis abandoned the patch and their pails. Phyllis being younger and longer of limb soon left poor short-legged Ida behind. Ida describes the flight, as Phyllis leaping downed trees, while Ida was going over them on all fours! Fortunately for Ida, the bear chose to stay behind with their abandoned pails of berries.